A good portion of seniors and their caregivers could use some help paying for food, heating, health care, and other life essentials, but many have little—if any—knowledge of how much financial aid they can actually get. And, in this case, what you don't know may be costing you.

A report, just-released by the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and the National Association of Area Agencies on Aging (n4a), has revealed that older Americans are missing out on over $20 billion in potential benefits.

Data for the report was gathered using the National Council on Aging's online BenefitsCheckUp widget and the U.S. Administration on Aging's Eldercare Locator service.

In total, 71% of seniors using the BenefitsCheckUp—a tool that analyzes a senior's financial situation and tells them what benefits they qualify for—were not taking advantage of all the of their potential benefits. These benefits included participation in a variety of programs, including: the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), Medicare/Medicaid, and Supplemental Security Income.

And, just because older adults aren't using these resources doesn't mean they don't need assistance.

Information collected from people using the Eldercare Locator service—a telephone hotline and website combination that provides information on senior services—indicated that 27% of inquiries were made by older adults seeking help finding financial assistance.

If over a quarter of seniors and their caregivers need financial help, why are so many not using all of the resources available to them?

According to the study results, lack of eligibility knowledge and fear of overly complicated application processes dominated the list of reasons cited by older adults who weren't using these programs.

Even if a senior is taking advantage of some benefits, they may not be aware that they are eligible to receive additional assistance.

In response to these startling statistics, the NCOA and n4a, along with the U.S. Administration on Aging, have initiated a program to help make sure seniors are aware of all of their potential benefits. The "You Gave, Now Save" initiative encourages older adults to use resources like the BenefitsCheckUp site and Eldercare Locator tools to learn more about their opportunities for financial aid.